The Delhi High Court on Monday sought the Centre’s response on a plea seeking CBI probe into alleged criminal misconduct by passport and police officials in issuing the travel document to real estate baron Sushil Ansal despite his conviction in the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire which claimed 59 lives.
Justice Najmi Waziri issued notice to the central government, the Regional Passport Office (RPO), Delhi Police and CBI seeking their stand on the application moved by Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) through its chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost two children in the tragedy. She has been fighting a legal battle on behalf of the victims’ families for the last 20 years.
The court also chastised the Delhi Police for not completing its vigilance enquiry into the lapses by its officers who in 2013 cleared Ansal for issuance of a fresh passport. “Why did you wait till November 28 to begin the enquiry when you had received the report (of the External Affairs Ministry) on November 15. You think there is no urgency? Come with a report on the next date,” it said and listed the matter for further hearing on December 17.
The MEA had given a report to the court blaming Delhi Police and passport authorities for issuing the travel document without proper verification to Ansal. The court had asked the MEA to carry out an inquiry against the passport officers who had repeatedly issued the travel document to Ansal in 2000, 2004, 2013 and 2018 and to submit a report before it.
AVUT, represented by senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, contended in court that there was a “nexus” and “conspiracy” between the RPO officials, police officers and Ansal which led to the issuance of the passport to him despite being convicted in the Uphaar tragedy case.
Pahwa, argued that the entire chain of events not only indicated misconduct by the public servants, it also showed abuse of power by them. He also said that police has not placed on record the reports regarding its verification of Ansal before issuance of the passport. He further said that Ansal had surrendered his passport in 2017 only after AVUT filed a plea in the trial court for an investigation into how he had got the travel document when he was facing criminal cases.
Senior advocate Rebecca John, representing Ansal, opposed the contentions on behalf of AVUT and said that her client was issued a passport in 1996 which was valid till 2016. She said that in 2000 and 2004 her client had sought additional booklets for his passport and that is why no police verification was carried out.
The senior lawyer also said that there was no need to take the instant matter any further as Ansal no longer has a passport and he has no expectations of getting a fresh one in the future. She also said that her client’s passport had already been impounded and the maximum penalty of Rs 5,000 imposed on him as per the Passports Act for not divulging details of criminal cases he was facing when he applied for the travel document.
“Would it make any sense to take this any further,” she said.
AVUT, in its plea in the high court, has alleged that Ansal played a fraud on the authorities while getting his passport renewed. In an affidavit before the court, the RPO has said Ansal seemed to have “deliberately concealed” the details of the criminal case against him.
The submission was made in response to the court’s October 3 query as to how a passport was issued in 2000, 2004 and 2013 to Ansal “when the world knew in some way or the other” about the Uphaar tragedy and that he was involved in it. The high court had noted that Ansal was issued a passport even after his conviction by a trial court in the case in 2007.
As per rules, the passport application for new/ re-issue/ replacement of lost/ damaged passport issued by the MEA mandates the applicant to disclose whether he is involved in a criminal case or not and to produce the NOC from the court concerned in case they are involved in any criminal prosecution.
The apex court last year asked Gopal Ansal to undergo the remaining of one-year jail term in the case, while his elder brother Sushil Ansal got relief from incarceration with a prison term already undergone by him in view of age-related complications. A fire at Uphaar cinema during the screening of Hindi film ‘Border’ on June 13, 1997 killed 59 people.